Millennials and Baby Boomers - Fear and Inclusion

Change Across Generations


Kim Scribner
Sr. Consultant, Transformation Practice



“Change is easy” – said no one ever! In fact change is so hard there’s an entire discipline dedicated to change management. On my own personal book shelf there are at least 5 books on dealing with and managing change. Let’s break it down.

Who Moved My…

In 1998 “Who Moved My Cheese?” was written by Dr. Spencer Johnson. At that time I was still working on my undergraduate degree at Hofstra University in New York. Full of fresh ideas, afraid of nothing, knowing everything. Sounds like some of the millennials I work with today.

I can remember reading that book for the first time as part of an organization I worked for – a start up right out of college. We had plenty of VC – after all it was the early 2000s. About a month after we were all given a copy of that book – just under 200 of us at that time – about half the team was layed off. Talk about change. That was my first experience with my cheese moving. I was a “survivor” with survivors guilt – why me, what did I do to be saved so to speak.

As an agile coach and consultant I’ve been in the unique position at this point in my career to observe how people deal with change. When you’re working on transformation you are inevitably a change manager. Included in this article are my personal observations – they are not scientific by any means – I do not have fancy charts with thousands of data points.

The Generations

As with most people it’s hardest to self reflect – so most of my observations are NOT about Generation X – that’s my generation and we handle everything well 😉  This graphic shared via a Business Insider article earlier this year shows an estimate of which generation you may fall into personally. If you google it you’ll find several variations – but for the purposes of this article we’re going to go with these ranges.

I’ll focus my observations on Boomers – my first experience was when I worked at McDonalds as a young manager with a team that was mostly over the age of 60 on the morning shift; and on Millennials – which is the generation I spend the most time with today as an agile consultant and the generation I both LOVE and LOVE TO HATE.

An agile adoption is really a cultural change at it’s root. And since “culture change can’t be achieved through top-down mandate,” according to a June 2017 article in HBR, you must involve the people for a movement to occur. People are of course you’re most important customer of the change. And since movements are tied to emotion – it’s important that we understand the emotions felt by each group.

Millennials and Change

They’re young (ish), they’re smart (ish) and they question EVERYTHING! Did I mention it’s all about them?

Historical events have had a major impact on this generation – 9/11 and the economic recession came at a critical mind shaping time for these individuals. They didn’t graduate from college when Generation X did and automatically get a great job opportunity. However those events have  created a “what’s in it for me” attitude because life can be short and fleating. They also live in a time where easy access to the internet has existed for nearly their entire lives.

Millennials – in my observation – appreciate when they are part of making the decision on what the change will be. Their curiosity will sometimes feel like you’re hanging with a toddler. They won’t just appreciate your expertise and wisdom, they’ll challenge you to be better and think about the opportunity or change from perspectives you may not have considered. This is the part that makes me LOVE them.

Involve Me

Millennials in my experience are an all or nothing crowd – they are all IN or all OUT.

Reducing fear in Millennials means including them. This is a benefit to any change champion  since having a  well rounded and diverse change team can make or break a change. They can provide an interesting perspective, ask questions others may not, work through social engagements and water cooler talk that helps support engagement with their peers around the change.

Millennials want to know how the change will make their lives better. So show them, tell them – Transparency is KING with this crew!

Give Me Details

They also want to understand the HOW and the WHY. Since these are important elements in the Agile Mindset – during an adoption it’s good practice to get into explaining these and working through them – so say “thank you” for the challenge 🙂

Boomers and Change

Baby Boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964 – and they can still currently claim to be the “largest” generation. Predictions show that Millenials will outnumber Boomers beginning in 2019. So along with a diminishing population and the fear of losing their jobs to younger adults – it’s understandable that change is hard for this generation. These are the children of depression era parents who lived through the last world war. They are also the generation that has experienced a surge in new technology and modern convenience in their lifetime.

For Boomers the change is about making sure their business as ususal doesn’t change too much or all at once.

Small Changes

For Boomers the pilot teams or small incremental changes make sense – they are ok with sitting back, watching, learning, making sure things won’t get messed up too badly and then – “Hey, count me in!” Some Boomers may want to be counted in the first round – knowing they have the option to be the first to say something’s not working, but also that they have the experience to help the team in ways that some youngin couldn’t.

As agile coaches – we need to find ways to seek out that experience, not in the “we’ve always done it that way” realm, but in the way that it’s important to not repeat histories mistakes.

Change is Hard

As coaches, consultants and change champions we know that change is hard. There are of course books and process management for change:

  • Lean Change Management by Jason Little is one which I have found very helpful
  • The Human Side of Agile by Gil Broza is another which deals specifically with the squishy people side of things
  • Switch by Chip and Dan Heath is another I haven’t read yet but have heard is great


Put People First

At the end of the day – if you put people first, talk to them, understand them – Millennials, Boomers or even us stuck in the middle Gen Xers – you’ll be more successful at coaching transformations.